Thanks to a Congregational Preschools Grant, SHEMESH has been able to support many children and teachers in their preschool classrooms. Some of these children are on the autism spectrum or demonstrate difficulties like those seen in children on the spectrum, such as communication deficits and sensory processing issues. SHEMESH works to help teachers better understand and support these children.

To get a better sense of what we do in these classrooms, you can read these real-life stories:

Rob has autism and attended a local congregational preschool half day and a half day special preschool program in the County. In his special program in the County, the classroom was set up with students like Rob in mind. They had visual schedules, visual cues, augmentative and alternative communication systems, additional assistants, and a teacher with special education certification. When the SHEMESH specialist met Rob, he had a wonderful teacher with incredible patience and she just wanted to know that Rob was getting what he needed in his congregational school setting. Over the course of several observations and conversations, the SHEMESH specialist helped Rob’s congregational schoolteacher incorporate more visual supports in the classroom to support communication, following directions, and transitions. She modeled their use in real-time and helped Rob’s teacher problem-solve some of the more difficult situations that would arise throughout the day so that Rob could truly thrive in his congregational school classroom. Rob made incredible communication and behavioral progress, thanks to his getting the supports he really needed all throughout his school day.

Lea was in a 3-year-old classroom 5 mornings a week at a local congregational school when the SHEMESH specialist met her. She was a delightful child and her teacher adored her, but she struggled with social interactions, getting along with peers, and behavior. Not only was this challenging because the teacher had a roomful of 3-year-olds to teach, but she really wanted to be able to help Lea develop the skills she so badly needed. Over the course of several observations and conversations, the SHEMESH specialist helped Lea’s congregational schoolteacher develop a plan to address some of Lea’s underlying sensory needs within the classroom. The plan included planned sensory breaks, times to play without other children in Lea’s space, and alternating high energy activities with more calming activities. After just a few weeks, Lea’s teacher reported much progress in terms of both behavior and social interactions. Lea just seemed calmer and more able to manage herself overall. She was also better able to focus and absorb what was being taught.

In honor of World Autism Awareness Month, I thought I would share one of my favorite resources for supporting children on the spectrum and children with similar needs in their private preschool classrooms: Core vocabulary or communication boards (or core boards for short).

Core boards can go from very basic to more comprehensive. Many of the children I see in the private preschools can go straight to the more comprehensive boards. I love core boards for several reasons. First, they are all-in-one and easily portable; no Velcro or pieces that can get lost or be difficult to sort through. Second, they include words that can be used in so many ways and contexts, so they allow children to use words in novel ways. Third, core boards facilitate greater independent communication and provide visual support not just for initiating, but expanding, language. Finally, anyone can print a core board and use it. It does not require specialized training, just an understanding of how it should be used.

If a child is somewhat verbal, the board should help the child verbalize more, rather than be used as its own method of communication. Occasionally, if a child is in a heightened emotional state, he/she might simply point to the pictured words instead of saying them out loud and I think just using the board without the verbal communication is exactly what’s needed in that situation to allow a child time and space to get to a calmer emotional state.

Here are a couple quick tutorials about core communication boards:

Here are some of my favorite comprehensive core boards, along with some more simple options: (Image shown in this post)

And here are lists of the kinds of words you can focus on in your classroom, which coincide with the core communication boards:

I hope this is helpful to some of you!


SHEMESH Special Education and Support Consultant